Hillary Clinton was nowhere near Washington the day charges against President Trump's former campaign chairman were announced and news broke that a former Trump campaign volunteer had pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about meeting with Russian officials.
She was in Chicago where she promoted her book (“I have a great chapter about Russia”), thought about her Halloween costume (“I think I will maybe come as the president”) and quipped about conservative media outlets’ preoccupation with a vanquished presidential candidate while big news surrounded the one who won.
“All the networks except Fox are reporting what’s really going on.... It appears they don't know I’m not president,” tweeted NBC News politics reporter Alex Seitz-Wald, quoting Clinton, who held an event at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on Monday night.
Conservative media outlets seem to have largely followed White House talking points in reporting the news dump of the past few days: There’s no collusion. The charges against Paul Manafort predate his involvement in the Trump campaign. George Papadopoulos was a lowly campaign volunteer. And the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee’s funding of research that resulted in the now-infamous dossier — not to mention the Uranium One deal with a Russian company that was approved during the Obama administration while Clinton was secretary of state — are the clearest evidence of collusion with Russia.
For the Clinton camp, it seems there's a fixation on an administration that does not exist.
“If you watch Fox News these days, they're treating Hillary Clinton as if she won the election,” said former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon. He called the media outlet a White House “propaganda arm” that focuses on Clinton while downplaying the recent criminal allegations arising from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into possible Russian influence in the presidential election. “Fox News is certainly buying that alternative narrative and they’re trying to peddle it, but Bob Mueller is not going to fall for that.”
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The media outlet also had aired segments that included references to the nonexistent “Clinton administration” and “President Clinton.”
“The speculation is so insane right now. What we should be focusing on are the continued lies of the Clinton administration, the continued fallacies that they perpetuate,” former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” on Saturday, as news of an indictment loomed over Washington.
And here’s Sean Hannity, one of the leading purveyors of White House talking points, in his Monday night monologue, which focused on Clinton, the uranium deal and the dossier:
“What did Hil — what did President Clinton, uh or, President Clinton wannabe, President Obama and key members of the Obama administration, what did they know about the Uranium One scandal?”
The Clinton coverage continued to dominate in the conservative media world Monday morning, even as news broke that Manafort and his former business associate, Rick Gates, were told to surrender to the FBI. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on “Fox & Friends,” saying the focus should be on Clinton.
“People should be looking into any coordination . . . between the Clinton campaign, the DNC, the Russian dossier,” Conway said, adding that she and others in the administration would love to not talk about Clinton, “but she just won’t go away.”
“Fox & Friends” echoed Conway a bit later that morning with the headline, “PROBE SHOWS DEM TIES TO URANIUM DEAL, DOSSIER,” as other national media outlets focused their coverage on Manafort.
News of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee’s role in funding research that led to the dossier, first reported by The Washington Post last week, has become a major weapon for the White House and conservative media, which sought to focus allegations of collusion on Clinton, her campaign and the Democrats.
“There is clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding to smear the president and influence the election,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the White House briefing Monday.
Also being used as a club against Clinton and the Democrats is the Uranium One deal, which is now the subject of a congressional probe.
Fallon, the former Clinton campaign spokesman, dismissed the new investigation as an effort by congressional Republicans to try to “dig up scandals” on someone who is never going to seek elected office again.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that Clinton was “paid a fortune” when she was secretary of state in exchange for a deal with a Russian state-owned nuclear energy company to control over 20 percent of the U.S. uranium supply. But multiple fact checks have shown that there is no evidence that Clinton was personally involved in the deal, which was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, none of which involved Clinton.
As the Fact Checker’s Glenn Kessler wrote: “Any suggestion that Russian money was directed to influence Clinton’s decisions would be explosive. But the fatal flaw in this allegation is Hillary Clinton, by all accounts, did not participate in any discussions regarding the Uranium One sale which — as we noted — does not actually result in the removal of uranium in the United States.”
Cable news headlines remained just as disparate in the Monday evening broadcasts:
CNN: “FIRST CHARGES FILED IN MUELLER INVESTIGATION”
MSNBC: “REPORT: FIRST CHARGES FILED IN MUELLER RUSSIA PROBE”
Fox News, promoting a Hannity special: “NEW DETAILS IN DEMOCRAT SCANDALS”
The New York Post — which, along with Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, is also owned by Rupert Murdoch — had nearly dropped the story of the indictments from its homepage by Monday evening, focusing instead on sexual harassment scandals related to Kevin Spacey, Peyton Manning and Harvey Weinstein.
Breitbart’s lead story was about Tony Podesta, a prominent Democratic lobbyist and brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.
“THE PLOT THICKENS,” reads a headline on Breitbart's homepage Monday evening. “TONY PODESTA RESIGNS FROM PODESTA GROUP AS MUELLER PROBE HEATS UP.”
Podesta, brother of John Podesta, had not been charged with a crime or named in court filings, though his firm was indirectly referenced in the charges against Manafort and Gates.
On Tuesday morning, an alert splashed across the Fox News website read: “No Russia collusion, but are more Mueller charges coming? Should Hillary worry?”
By Tuesday afternoon, Breitbart’s lead story was a rehash of Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s interview with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who urged the Justice Department to contain intelligence leaks.
On the Daily Caller’s homepage, the main story was also about Podesta: “We Asked This Dem Senator About The Podesta Group. He Immediately Tried to Deflect.” Below that was a story about White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s interview with Ingraham. She asked if there should be another special prosecutor to investigate the Uranium One deal, to which Kelly said, “Yeah, I guess so.”
The New York Post, meanwhile, has completely dropped any news story about the Mueller investigation or the indictment from its homepage.
Eli Rosenberg contributed to this story.